KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) It's coming up on a year since Charles Kimble moved from North Carolina to Killeen to take on a rising violent crime rate as the city’s new police chief, but he’s spent plenty of time getting acquainted with Texas culture, too.
He’s even made cowboy hats a part of the Killeen Police Department dress code.
“When I got here last year, as a gift the officers got me a new cowboy hat,” Kimble said.
“They said, ‘Chief you can't be a Texas lawman without a cowboy hat.”
It’s the first cowboy hat he's had since he was little.
Months later, during rodeo week in May, he allowed officers to wear cowboy hats while on duty to celebrate the festivities.
Once the summer rolled around, he got his first taste of Texas heat and decided the hats not only boost morale, but also help shade officers in the record-setting temperatures.
As officers started sporting the hats more, they discovered another unexpected benefit to wearing them.
“When we go visit schools, the children like it,” Kimble said.
“It's a conversation piece when the officers are out talking with the community and see the hat- so it's another tool in our toolbox that brings us and the community together."
The new chief decided to make the cowboy hats an acceptable part of the KPD uniform.
Several officers helped draw up the official policy which includes appropriate colors and style.
Kimble says officers need to connect with the community to help reduce crime.
He says he’s found that Killeen residents are proud of their city and their state, and this is simply one way that they can share in that pride with citizens.
One of Kimble’s top priorities since taking office has been to build relationships between officers and local residents.
Whether it’s supporting lemonade stands or responding to letters from inmates, he says every small effort plays a huge role in driving down crime.
He says the department has been laser-focused on cleaning up Killeen’s streets,particularly after the release of a report by the Department of Justice which showed a five-year rise in violent crime in Killeen.
Officers are prioritizing building relationships with the city’s youth and partnering with federal organizations and other departments in Central Texas.
He says the city is experiencing major improvements.
"We're down like 84 percent in homicide. Violent crime as a whole is down,” Kimble said.
“We really push that effort to reduce violent crime, and we're being successful.”
“Again it’s not ‘us’ doing it, it’s ‘us and the community’ doing it,” he added.
He's also been working on recruitment to fill empty positions on the force.
A new group of potential officers is currently undergoing testing, and the department hopes to boost interest in the job through social media promotions like digital ride-a-longs.
“It's important to have the right people in the organization. We're very selective, we're not going to lower our standards,” he says.
“We think having the right people do the right thing is important.”
Kimble just returned from a U.S. Justice Department training session during which he and other chiefs from throughout the country sat down with young offenders to find common ground and discuss how to de-escalate conflicts.
He hopes his officers can use the skills to build on his original mission.
“I firmly believe that a connected community is a safe community,” he said.
“I hope the trust is there with the citizens in the community- I believe it is.”